It was June when Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib became the first active player to come out as gay. Since then, all these months later, three vital things have happened:
First, Nassib has changed lives for the better. He donated $100,000 to The Trevor Project, a non-profit that supports LGBTQ+ people by providing crisis intervention, suicide prevention services and resources for mental health issues. Nassib brought awareness to an organization that might not have received as much attention without Nassib’s social media post. It was an impactful move that likely saved someone’s life.
The NFL matched Nassib’s donation and the project says in the days following Nassib’s announcement traffic to its website spiked 350 percent.
“The Trevor Project really has had a big presence in our community for a long time,” Ryan O’Callaghan, who played in the NFL from 2006 to 2011 with Kansas City and New England, told NFL.com. “They’re serving a critical need. You can look up the statistics for depression and suicidal thoughts and actually committing suicide within the LGBTQ community, and it’s way too high, especially compared to the average American. The Trevor Project has been there for a lot of people. Even back when I was closeted, I remember calling their hotline once.”
Second, Nassib has, unquestionably, made it easier for the next closeted NFL player, or players in other sports, to come out. Nassib has followed a path put forward by pioneers like Michael Sam and put down his own trailblazing markers.
Third, and this is perhaps the most important, following his announcement, Nassib has played football.
And played football, and played football, and played some more.
There have been no protests. No locker room eruptions that we know of. In fact, by every measure, the Raiders have been greatly accepting.
There’s been, mostly, silence.
In this case, silence is a good thing. It’s a remarkable thing. It’s one of the greatest indicators of progress in the NFL.
As we digest what has, mostly, been a horrific year of tragedy and loss, Nassib’s story is one of the most important, because he has normalized being gay in the NFL, something that just a short time ago would have been a ridiculous thought.
When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, it was obviously a significant and historic achievement. Decades later, seeing players of color across the sport, doing what they loved, with little controversy, is Robinson’s real legacy. The players’ Blackness is still a source of pride for them (there’s no such thing as a colorblind society) but it isn’t the prominent factor. They are baseball players first.
The same goes for Nassib. Being gay likely isn’t the only thing that defines him. Being a football player in part does. Being a human being likely does the most. Nassib is obviously proud of being gay but the fact it’s barely mentioned now is a feat in itself.
This is Nassib’s greatest gift to football, sports and the country. All these months after he came out the progress has been significant because the silence has been uproarious.
“Someone like Carl coming out normalizes being gay for a lot of youth,” O’Callaghan said. “It gives a lot of kids someone they can point to and say, ‘Hey, he’s gay, too. I bet you wouldn’t make fun of him.’ It does go a long way.”
It will keep going a long way. The impact will last decades.